John 20:19-23

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors were locked where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Here we are at Pentecost!  It’s good to see so many of you wearing red…and plaid!  We wear red because of the symbolism of the Holy Spirit descending upon those early disciples in the form of a flame lighting aloe their heads.  

Pentecost itself corresponds to the Jewish “Festival of the Weeks”.  It’s a harvest festival that falls 50 days after the Jewish passover.  Jesus was crucified during the passover celebration as we know.  Fifty days later, the disciples are still living in fear, but are in Jerusalem now for another festival.  Can you imagine what those disciples must have been going through in those 50 days?  As we have been talking about these past few weeks, we’ve been talking about Jesus’ words in John chapters 14-17, the farewell discourse and events right after that discourse. Again, Jesus has been preparing his disciples for what was about to come. Now, Jesus did not know all that was about to happen. He did not have any certainty. He didn’t know the outcome of the next day or the next season. Sound familiar? 

We can identify with those disciples, living in seasons of our lives with uncertainty.  Yet, something happened to them in those 50 days.  As we read in the passage from Acts, the Spirit of God moved within them and they were empowered to move beyond their fear and to share their lives with those in a crowded Jerusalem.  

That dynamic energy of three in one God, demonstrated by the outpouring of God’s energy, God’s Spirit on the disciples, gave them courage to face the unknown of going outside of their comfort and into a world that they literally did not understand. They walked into a Jerusalem filled with folks from all over that had different customs, different ethnicities, and different languages.  This Spirit of God, this “Advocate” as we talked about recently is all around us and in us, the same Spirit that filled the disciples on that day. God’s Presence literally is advocating for us and is with us…and carried the disciples and carries us today!

The early disciples experienced being connected to God, one another, and wanted to share that connection with the world. And, in so doing, they gave birth to a new movement, a new understanding, a new realization if you will, that we are all one humanity, God’s children. That our diversity is beautiful, keeps us curious, AND, we can be united and connected in that diversity. Fire was used to describe the Holy Spirit…and that flame, once kindled, proliferated wildly.

The disciples needed the spirit…they needed courage…and they needed to know that they were not alone.  If we have ever lost someone, we know that even after they are gone, that it often feels like they are still with us. Maybe even more so. Same, but even more with Jesus. We’ve never met Jesus, yet it seems that Jesus is even more present within my body, within my friendships, and within the space between us. Teilhard calls this the cosmic Christ, that Christ not only lived and walked the earth, but is with us, everywhere with everyone and everything, right now. 

Jesus, the Christ, appears to the disciples in the gospel lesson from John giving them God’s very presence and calling them out of their comfortable place, which, is really precarious actually, into the world around them.  When they receive the Spirit in power later at Pentecost, the movement begins!  The disciples are not only carried by the Spirit, but they are also given forgiveness to be received and given!  There is no longer any shame to hold us back when live in the presence of God.

There is a Presence, a sense of God’s love all around us and I pray for awareness of God’s Presence. I believe that the greatest gift and struggle that we have as humans, is the work of becoming of self, others, and God aware…of being connected to ourselves, others, with the divine flow of God pushing us deeper. The disciples, like us, were in a liminal space, a threshhold out of their control and they were being pushed deeper into Presence. 

As we allow God’s love to pour into us and through us to others, we begin to understand that we are connected to an expansive and wild God. We begin to see faith as not about certainty or having things figured out, but understanding that living in mystery and curiosity, living in a willingness to let go of our control, our vision, and letting God expand our horizons. We are locally rooted in community, and globally connected in Christ…as we let that reality seep in, we begin to experience a deepening of ourselves, a joy in things unseen but lived out. 

God’s Spirit, our advocate, is moving us out.  And, we are being moved out of ourselves and finding creative ways that God’s Spirit has been at work in and around us during this season, and we are adapting, embracing this new reality, not certain of where it will lead, but trusting that God’s Spirit will energize us, that God’s Son will be our friend, and that God’s relational flow will continue to give birth to new possibilities. 

Today is a reminder that some chapters close in our lives, yet other chapters open up!  We are sending off Steve and Beth into the next part of their lives, even while we welcome new chapters in our lives personally and as a congregation.  Yesterday, at my  commencement, the president of the seminary reminded us that commencement is not only an ending, but also a beginning.  We are a part of a legacy, a lineage, a great cloud of witnesses!  Whatever happens next, we can remember that the Spirit of God, God’s Presen


John 17:1-11 

Jesus Prays for His Disciples

17 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you, for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Glory!  What a word!  I would have to say that the music today has brought glory on each face as we sang earlier.  There is something about music that brings out glory, isn’t there?  Looking it up in the dictionary, gave me this as a definition of glory:

glo· ry 

: praise, honor, or distinction extended by common consent

: worshipful praise, honor, and thanksgiving

: something that secures praise or renown

: a distinguished quality or asset

: a state of great gratification or exaltation

: a height of prosperity or achievement

: something marked by beauty or resplendence

: the splendor and beatific happiness of heaven

We find this word in this morning’s passage.  Jesus is praying for himself and for his disciples.  This comes at the end of the “Farewell Discourse” that we have been talking about the past few Sundays.  Jesus has been encouraging his followers, his disciples that he now calls “friends” and family even as evidenced in previous Gospel stories.  

After this last supper, this remembrance and encouragement, Jesus goes to a place away from everyone to pray.  A quiet place, a place without distractions.

As we talked about in Bible Study this past week, God, the divine presence within and all around us, invites us to move into places alone.  The word in our bible study this past week was from Hosea 2 where God is seen as “alluring” us into the desert.

Jesus is in a season of consolation and desolation.  This is part of all of our journeys, as well as Jesus’.

St. Ignatius defined these as:  “(consolation is) every increase in hope, faith,  and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.” And “(desolation as) the contrary of [the above], such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, said, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord.”

We sometimes want to separate Jesus from his humanity, but he was human in every way and had to go through all things and emotions as every human does.  In many ways, we are reminded or shown that God does not cause evil, but lives through it with us, experiencing all that we experience.  This is true of Jesus as well.  He is pleading with his followers to be one and stick together as they grow through life.  To love one another.  He knows that they are about to be in a season of desolation.

He is now praying for himself to remember who he is and that he is connected to God and to others.

When one goes through the desert where everything is stripped away, when one is “allured”, one can move through desolation to consolation, to knowing their truest selves as found in the Truest Self, the self of all selves, their lover and their belovedness.  

As we go through desolation, if we allow ourselves to be in places of lament and growth, we can move towards consolation where we find ourselves living into eternity.  Jesus talks about eternal life in his prayer, remember, eternity in the original sense of the word, is not about quantity of life, but quality of life.  It is about being glorified.  Jesus is praying this for himself, and consequently for all of us.

This is a theme in scripture, the writer of Colossians says this in 1:27:

To them God chose to make known how great among the gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. – Colossians 1:27

This mystery is that Jesus, the Christ, through Christ’s Presence, represents you and Christ lives in you.  As you live into glory of who you are, not your ego, but your true self, you live in glory, in splendor, in beauty…even as you go through the process of desolation and consolation, or the cycle of death and resurrection. In this cycle, your ego becomes subservient to your true self.  In other words, you die to your ego and are resurrected into the person you were created to be…the very image of God.

Jesus understood this, Jesus knew that something was about to happen.  He leaned into it as he prayed that night and into the next day.  It was not easy, and we all know that life is not easy.  Yet, if we live it authentically, that is in vulnerability and adventurous, we can move towards glory.

Our reformed background gives us a series of questions and answers.  Back in the day, when you were confirmed into the Christian faith, you had to memorize these.  The very first question in the Shorter Catechism (there was a longer catechism that had 10x more questions, imagine having to memorize that!), is this:  

“What is the chief aim of humanity?  To enjoy God and glorify God forever.”  

Live in Christ, live in glory…and be who you were created to be, made in the glorious image of God!


John 14:15-21

15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Life can be crazy.  It can also seem like we are alone at times in trying to figure it out.  We all want to know if there is someone there for us.  Our culture is crying out to know if we are alone.  As one lyric of a popular song a few years ago said, “does anyone really care?” This morning’s passage gives us some sense that we are not alone. This passage comes to us while we are still in the season of Easter.  It is a part of the Farewell Discourse of scripture that we’ve been reading from quite a bit this year.  It is where Jesus is encouraging his disciples that they have a deeper power at work within them and all around them.  He has this curious question at the beginning, “if you love me?”  We should ponder that question.  We talk a lot about church in the church, but do we ask the questions, the deeper questions, do we love God, do we love ourselves, are we willing to go deep with this whole concept of love?  If we are, then are we willing to listen to the Divine voice within and without and love as God created us to love?  Are we willing to grow and change?  Jesus encourages the disciples, and us, to love one another, that they, and we, will not be left alone or orphaned, but that an advocate is being given to them.The Greek word for “advocate” in this morning’s passage in John is beautiful.  Greek words often have many different meanings.  The word for advocate in Greek is “paraclete”.  It means to come alongside, to help, to counsel. 

Coming alongside?  What does that mean?  Samuel Wells, an author and Anglican priest uses a term call “with-ness” rather than “witness” in describing God’s presence with us.  As the body of Christ, we find our being in the relational flow of the Trinity by being recipients of God’s emptying into us. This flow fills us and calls us to be our truest selves to then empty into one another. We are connected to an embodied Jesus that’s somewhere out there in the cosmos, it’s a mystery, but someday this will all be revealed. 

God demonstrated to us God’s love by entering humanity through Jesus, taking on flesh as described in the first book of John.  Immanuel, God incarnate, God in the flesh. We are connected to Jesus because He is the head of the church. The church has a particular role as part of the Body of Christ. We are called to emulate and model Jesus’ emptying by simply doing what Jesus did: by being “with” others or practicing “with-ness.”  By allowing God to pour God’s life into us and to allow that life to flow into others. To live in Christ by living in this relationship with God’s flow through God’s relationship within the Trinity. 

“Being with” is a central tenant of the outpouring, the emptying of God’s Spirit through the Trinitarian flow. Samuel Wells notes, “Being with the dynamic of the inner relations of the Trinity – God being with God; it is the essence of God being with us in Christ; and it is the fulfillment of the Spirit’s work in our being with one another.” Scripture reminds us that Christ resides within humanity: “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11b). Jesus is the Christ, flowing from the Trinity, residing with us, as well as our neighbors, and in all things. As we live into Jesus being made present with us, we can then be present with ourselves and others, with everything. As we practice “being with,” of “living in,” and have a theological understanding that Christ is in all things and people, then we can understand being one, or in communion with others. 

We have this Spirit of the Divine calling us to be with and to come alongside others.  We have the power of God calling us to others even as it calls us deeper to ourselves.  How do we come alongside?  Cormac Russel wrote a great book called “Rekindling Democracy”.  He is a friend and asked me to review an early chapter of it a few years ago, he says this about coming alongside: 

In getting alongside communities the challenge is not to pre-script the conversation. Here are some tips we can follow.

1. Don’t pretend to know, ask.                   

2. Don’t assume to know, ask.                 

3. Don’t offer answers, ask; then….

4. Don’t talk, listen…

I gave everyone a handout this morning, it’s more detailed from his book.  Take it home, check it out.  It’s what we’ve been practicing in many ways over the past 5 1/2 years that I’ve been here.  Really, in a lot of ways, the basis of my doctoral work as well.  Many of you have been practicing this intentionally and unintentionally.  

Living this kind of coming alongside requires two things:  faith and connection.  Jesus knew that death was approaching on the night before he was crucified.  Jesus also hoped and understood that death needed to happen before resurrection.  We, even 2000 years later, don’t always have that kind of faith.  Even as we see it written out scripture.  Jesus also knew that we would need to stay connected to each other and to him.  Again, that’s why he said that an advocate would be with us, the very spirit of God.  The way the Spirit works, it comes alongside, it advocates for us, it helps us to see things about ourselves, others, and God that may not make sense at times, but always seems to work towards deeper awareness eventually.  Our congregation, and our world, are going through death and resurrection and we are crying out.  Not to have everything figured out, but to know that someone does care.  We’re not alone, the very power of God, the deep love of God that is radically inclusive of all of us in this room and outside these doors and windows, presides within us and all around us.

This spirit, this advocate that is with us won’t settle for comfortable, this advocate will push us towards growth…may we cultivate our awareness of God and ourselves as the advocate emboldens us and gives us confidence as it did the disciples.  The disciples faced hard things, their friend was encouraging them as he knew that they would need one another…we can do hard things.  May we love one another and may we trust this advocate.


John 14:1-14

Jesus the Way to the Father

14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, but if you do not, then believe because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled!”  Well, that seems to easy to say doesn’t I?!  Yet, we let our hearts be troubled every day at times.  Yet, anxiety can lead to deeper belief, and belief can turn into deeper commitment.  So, if there is a pattern to this sermon, it’s the “ABC’s”.  Anxiety to belief to commitment and how do we get there?

My anxiety on one level has risen this week.  My nephew sold his car to my son for 1/2 the cost of what it would normally be.  That’s great, but it’s a stick shift.  

Everyone in our family can drive a stick except for Brennan.  To his credit, he’s learning.  But, until he does, he’s been driving my car while I drive his. I’m anxious because I want him to be safe.  But, I have to admit, when I take a step back and look at the whole picture, it’s kind of fun to drive his car for a bit.  

Well, that’s one thing.  But, life throws so many curves at us, doesn’t it.  More than learning how to drive a stick shift, we face so many other things in life.  We live in anxious times where we don’t know the future and it seems like our dreams and expectations are not coming to fruition.  I see it and hear it every day.  We have an older congregation, many of us are wondering what the rest of our days will be like.  We also wonder about our congregation and where we will be…and we look around and wonder where are our sons, daughters, and grandchildren.  Not just in the church, but in our lives. 

In troubled times, we have to begin to ask deeper questions.  That’s why I love Thomas’ questions. He stays open and curious, even in his anxiety. In that process, he grows and faith takes shape.  It took Thomas to starting the church in India after Jesus’ death.  A church that still exists today and started a movement of folks across Europe actually.  That same faith is alive in us and giving us agency. I believe that God’s agency, God’s Spirit is moving in and through this church and our neighborhoods, and it’s going to be good.  But, even in our anxiety, we have to stay curious and listen together to figure out what God is up to and to be moved in the direction that God has us going in.  

This passage is a part of John’s writings called the “Farewell Discourse” found in John, chapters 14-17.  I’d encourage you to read them all when you get home…not right now though… Jesus is setting the stage for what is to come after he is crucified and resurrected.  The disciples are a bit confused, they’ve got these questions.  Where we take up this discourse in chapter 14, Jesus points directly to Jesus being in the Father and vice versa.  It gives foundation to our understanding of the Triune nature of God, the Trinity.  Jesus is saying that he is one with the Father and he speaks, not with his authority, but with the Father’s authority who lives in him, and Jesus lives in the Father, they share space, they mutually indwell within each other.  Jesus also, in his humanity, shares space with us and in his humanity is showing us how we should live and the work we should be about as we participate in God’s actions.

That’s hard for me to completely understand.  Jesus has an intimate oneness in his relationship with the Father and Jesus is one with us in our humanity which allows us to share in God’s love for each other and the world around us.   We are one in Jesus as it says elsewhere in Scripture, because of this oneness, we are connected together by the very power of God.  

I have to believe that something is happening here at Fleming Road UCC, in our community, in me, in our relationships, something very good, and hard though, especially as we live into this season of disruption that seems will be with us for a while.  But, we have to remember our oneness.  Are we honoring one another?  Are we asking questions?  Are we willing to be in this together?  To celebrate even our differences?

I believe that my coming to Fleming Road UCC was such a unique calling.  It’s a church in my neighborhood wanting to be community engaged.  The timing of the conversations with our church started right before I left for India for three weeks.  While in India in 2017, I had a growing sense that my next call would be as pastor of this church.  I was filled with excitement, but also had some anxiety and lots of questions and not knowing what to expect or what this church would be like.  Yet, I believed.  And, it’s proven to be a great call almost 6 years into it.  Filled with ups and downs, yes, but so good…and, friends, I don’t want to go anywhere in this season…I see our congregation coming together in deeper ways if we allow ourselves to slow down, reflect, and allow God’s flow to move us into new places.  I believe, that if we stay faithful, that the next two to three years of our congregational and community life, even with all of the uncertainty of our times, will be the most exciting in our church’s history.  

Jesus says he’s the way.  That’s not an exclusive statement, it’s actually inclusive.  Jesus is calling us to live into our agency as we live in Christ…a Christ that is universal and present within all of us.  The way of love…and it is our way at Fleming Road.  

Jesus is asking in this passage:  Do you believe?  The Greek word in this text for believe is a great word πιστεύw it means  1. believe, believe in, be convinced of, give credence to; 2. believe (in), trust in a special sense, with God or Christ as object; Have confidence; 4. think, hold, or consider (possible).  It is used 3 times alone in vs. 10 & 11.  In vs. 11, the word “believe” is used as an imperative, giving it a sense of command and urgency.  The writer of John is trying to drive home a point, do you believe?

The writer goes on to say that if you believe, then you will do even greater works than me.  This is where we come to the word “great”.  What does that mean to do greater things than me?  The key here is to understand what Jesus means when he says “they will do even greater things than these..”  Jesus is communicating to his disciples, and to us, that we have a new identity that is wrapped up in him and our understanding of what it means to be truly human.  There is a new power at work that will enable his followers to do great things.  What are some of those works?  Taking care of those who are impoverished, healing disease, causing the lame to walk, preaching release to those held in bondage, being a true friend and good neighbor.  Jesus says that to be great, those are the types of things that we need to be about because that’s what he was about.  When read in that context, we begin to understand vs. 14, which says that anything we ask in Christ’s name, he’ll do it.  In other words, God’s purposes will always win out and those purposes are consistent with his character.  As humans, we share in those characteristics and purposes because we share in Christ’s humanity.  Our identity does not lie in what roles we play in life such as being a doctor, engineer, parent, pastor, runner, or whatever…our identity lies in Christ and it shapes our roles and actions.  Because of Jesus’ identity with us and our identity with him, we can be great and change the world…not only on global issues, but in our own communities, and even in the lives of those we see every day.  We can all be great to someone!

Our passage says that Jesus is going to prepare a place for us, that God’s house has many rooms.  Well, that’s a message for now.  Our church building is huge, and we are opening it to the community.  Yes, most of our contacts have come through my connections, but YOU have embraced it and have had agency and are taking these new partnerships in different directions.  You have worked through some anxiety, you have believed, and you have committed.  Someone on our church council asked me this week if I’m ready to be a new kind of pastor to multiple groups in our building.  My response was yes in so many ways.  We have some work that is still emerging, but it is good work.  We also have many rooms in the community opening up.  As Marilyn and I preached together on a few years ago, our congregation is merging with the neighborhood around us.  God is showing us the Way! I am committed to making sure that our current congregational live thrives, and that we engage the community together in meaningful ways that bring life to us and to our neighbors even as we commit to creating new things. Live in Jesus and have confidence that his Spirit is living in you and wants to transform the world with his love through you!  ABC… Amen?


John 10:1-10 

Jesus the Good Shepherd 

10 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 

5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. 

Our congregation is finding itself in a new place I believe.  Every few years there’s anxiety that the congregation won’t be around much longer.  When COVID hit, some said that was it, we won’t recover.  Yet, a couple of years out of the height of COVID, we are not only still here, we are finding new ways of being and moving in the world.  What we are doing and being is making sure that our congregational life is strong, as well as our community engagement.  This has happened as we have listened to one another and listened to what God is doing in our congregation and neighborhood and getting into that flow of God’s movement.  

Our passage this morning tells us to listen to the voice of the Shepherd. During this season, we’ve had so many voices to listen to in our culture: government voices ranging from the local to the federal, scientists, political leaders, clergy folk, neighbors, friends, family, news outlets…all sorts of folks often saying conflicting things…in the midst of those voices, it’s been interesting to see who we hear and what we hear. 

Overall, I feel like we’ve been able to listen well, especially to one another, and hear a collective voice that speaks towards deepening friendship, new practices, authenticity, and growth as persons and as a church. 

Yet, we still hear other voices that try to pull us in so many directions…it can give us whiplash! But, in the midst of it all, we try to cultivate a deepening awareness of recognizing the voice of God and God’s love for us in the depths of ourselves, in others, and in the world around us. 

Last Sunday, in our sermon conversations, some folks commented on how they have seen and heard God’s beauty all around them during this season.  We also heard from Pat on how we have met many goals already this year and moving towards other goals.  

It can be hard to train our ears for the voice of the Shepherd, of God, in our lives, even in this season.

One of the things that we have been doing is trying to train our dog, Leo, to listen to our voices. He’s a smart dog, an Australian/Pointer mix. It’s been quite the journey! And, it’s been hard for us to get everyone in our house on the same page in training him. But, he’s learning. 

Another thing about Leo, as a shepherd, he stays close to us…all of the time. He wants to make sure that we are OK. He knows us now. 

Our gospel lesson talks about sheep and shepherds. Obviously, the metaphor worked well in an agrarian society like first century Palestine. We are the sheep, Jesus is the shepherd. Jesus is leading us through whatever walls that divide us or prevent us from pastures that give life and nutrients. Sheep need lots of different fields, throughout a day, shepherds take their sheep to different fields in order for them to graze on fresh food, to have open spaces. Jesus wants us all to have life, abundant life, and he wants to lead us to better fields. 

We may want to stay in worn out fields…we produce a lot of smelly and messiness as we consume so much in those old fields. Our relationships with each other are filled with craziness at times, we don’t always follow or lead each other well. There are also dangers around us and we need to be led to safer fields. Dangers that come as thieves to us such as depression, loneliness, selfishness, pride, or addictions, or folks not being the best version of themselves, or fully understanding themselves or others. Those thieves can come in the middle of darkness as it says in John 10:10 that kill and destroy the lives that we were called to live. 

Yet, Jesus tells us that he has come to give us life. When we slow down, or get caught up in recognition of good things around us and the origin of that goodness, we can recognize the voice of the true shepherd, the voice of Jesus who has entered in the fields of our lives, who walks with us and towards us…walking through the messiness to call us towards new fields, new adventures. We often recognize the voice of Jesus through others. Maybe we literally hear words from Jesus through others such as a speaker, or maybe even a preacher. Or maybe we recognize the voice of God through something we read, or a song we hear. Maybe it’s listening to our neighbors. Or, maybe it’s seeing someone else practice charity through actions or giving themselves away. 

We know it when we see it and hear it though, especially as we train our eyes and ears to see and recognize the true shepherd. 

Friends, we have said it before, we are living in a new place with church. This season has moved us into ways of being…there never is a true “normal” because life is always evolving, life always teaches us something new, and this season is no exception. It has reminded us that some of the old forms simply don’t work anymore. 

The world is crying out for us, the church, to be an example of goodness, of the good shepherd, to be reflections of Jesus’ actions and to reflect and amplify the voice of the Shepherd who is calling us towards him, towards abundant life, towards being one flock. This shepherd has laid down his life for us, yet in doing so, has overcome all of the messiness in our lives and is creating something new and beautiful as he leads us into new fields, filled with beauty and relationship. 

So, let’s listen to the voice of the Shepherd, let’s love each other well, and let’s play in the fields of Cincinnati, and the world and be the diverse, yet unified flock God’s marked us out to be…we can do this, we can believe in each other as so many have done with me and God does with us, trusting each other, loving each other, and changing the world, starting with the world within us.


 Luke 24:28-34

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”

Just a few years ago, in the height of the shutdown during the pandemic, wasn’t it good to get outside and simply walk?  Cleared our minds, got some sun, maybe even waved at a safe distance to neighbors?  Walking still has been important to me.  I try to get my steps in every day.  Running helps, but, I love slowing down and simply walking and taking inventory of my life within and around.  

Our lectionary passages finds two of Jesus’ disciples walking on the road to Emmaus.  We can relate to them.  They want to get out, they need to get out.  They have been isolated, disrupted, and their expectations crushed.  They need to work it out and were walking to a destination. 

This passage is particularly helpful for us today.  Doesn’t it seem like we are in a “liminal space”.  Liminal simply means being in a transitional space, one boundary has been cross and then entering into a new one.  We have been disrupted, some more than others love these past few years.  Yet, God has been leading us to this moment.  We may be disoriented, we may feel lost, we may want to go back to “normal”, but then we realize that we cannot.  We have crossed a threshold that was handed to us.  We must grow and move towards a new “normal”, and that new normal has to be good for everyone in some way.  

In this moment, I am so grateful to have our church as “walking partners”.  We are having some amazing conversations as we continue to move towards a liminal space.  

Along comes another walking partner in our story.  At first the disciples don’t recognize him, but as they share, and as Jesus moves into sharing a meal with them, it dawns upon them, this is Jesus and they are filled with emotion.  

Friends, as we walk together, aren’t we often surprised that as we sit, as we listen, as we share life together, slowly, but then suredly, along the way, we see Jesus!

I believe that in this season, we have the opportunity to “see” one another, and in the process, see God in each other.

In our story, Jesus goes on to give them communion.  

It’s hard to be at communion with everyone, to live in that recognition that we are connected.  Communion seems to not be the practice when we look at events in the world around us.  As I watched events unfold this past week and the divisiveness, I wonder if we can ever live in unity.  

Yet, we are called to remember that we are created for connection.  I am amazed at folks like Martin Luther King who were able to work towards justice while rejecting violence and seeking peace.

We also experience a lack of connectedness or communion with our deepest selves.  We live in a state of image that we’ve created of ourselves and try to hide the hard things that we don’t want to see or others to see.  That can lead to a discontent within ourselves.  Sometimes that discontent can lead us towards growth if handled in loving community with God and others.  But, oftentimes that discontent left on its own leads us to despair.  

I believe that our congregation has been towards communion…deeper connections that are burning within our hearts.  We may not be able to control what others do to us or to others or the circumstances around us, but we can live in Christ and strive to respond to others as Jesus would.  We are finding deeper places within our hearts that moves us towards curiosity and momentum towards a faith that will take us forward.  

After Jesus’ death and resurrection he appears to the frightened, lonely, desperate, insecure, and hopeless disciples, along the road, and in their hiding places.  They have just seen Jesus crucified, their hopes are dashed, their lives are threatened and they have locked themselves up in a room.  

Jesus came to the disciples on that road later and he comes to us today, having overcome everything, even death.  We approach this new season of life with expectation, or a hope for peace within ourselves, others, with God, and in the world.  He has made everything new and desires for us to live in unity, not conformity or an image, but in deeper relationships that are real, authentic.  Our hearts turn towards God and one another, and we begin to notice that our hearts beat as one.   As the church, the Body of Christ, Christ lives in us and we have the power to live in peace.  Friends, may we live in the one communion and may we allow our hearts to be open once again to one another and new possibilities. And may we live in Christ and abide in Christ as Christ lives in us.


John 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the  disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believethat Jesus is the Messiah,the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

During this season of coming out of the pandemic, as if we ever will, maybe we have felt “locked in” or “locked out”, we need time to “breathe”, but feel like we can’t escape.  It seems like oxygen, or breathing has been a theme this year for our culture.  We have experienced so much in these past few years, and even in the past few weeks.  It’s overwhelming at times and we all need space to breathe, to take in oxygen.  

This is the season for me, as well as our congregation.  Giving our faith some oxygen.  We have a lot of energy in and around us as we intentionally look at ways to encourage congregational life and community engagement.  There are three words that begin with an “r” that will help give us focus as we look for oxygen for growth:   renewal, and rest, and another “r” word:  resurrection!  

In my own life, I am experiencing it.  Last fall, council gave me some extra time off this year so I could apply for a PCUSA Board of Pensions grant for clergy renewal.  I received this grant, which is a great gift.  I will be using that for a family pilgrimage to Iona and Lindisfairne this summer, some time with Debbie, and then a personal retreat for me.  Even with the extra time off, I am not missing any more Sundays than I have in previous years.  Some may call this “vacation”, and there is certainly an element of rest and a change of pace and scenery, however it is more than that.  Our family is using the term “pilgrimage” as all four of us have been on what we’ve termed our own “hero’s journeys” the past couple of years.  We are looking for to give oxygen to our desire for renewal and for some rest as we live into resurrection, new life. This time away is a marker for us in many ways as we live into a new reality, new growth, that is emerging within us.  

It is the same for our congregation I believe.  The grant was for $5,000.  I am donating $500 out of that grant to the church to plant some seeds for all of us to cultivate a recognition of some rest and renewal as we live into “resurrection”.  Just as the early disciples needed time to let the reality of a resurrected Jesus sink in, we need time to reflect on this same Jesus rising up within us.  I am working with Pat Young and Dave Kleinschmidt to come up with some simple, yet meaningful, ways we can experience renewal as a congregation through some small group opportunities and another project similar to what we did last year with my doctoral research project involving a small group of folks from the congregation and the community.

Our text this morning has a lot to do with moments like this, moments in our lives when we need to breathe, breathing that brings life, and not just any life…life that feels locked up or locked down and not going anywhere, lives that seem shut off from the world…we want life as it was meant to be lived…that has been true for humanity throughout our history.

Right after Jesus’ death on a Roman cross and resurrection from the dead. Jesus appears to his disciples. As we mentioned last week, it’s not every day that you see someone raised from the dead, they were disoriented, lost, so I imagine they were a bit overwhelmed, in shock, and wondering what was going to happen next. 

The disciples are in a state of fear. They were locked in a room, afraid of the same folks who had just crucified Jesus and fearful that they would be after them as well. They were literally in a “stay at home” quarantine out of fear for their lives!  They were in a self-imposed lockdown.  They were wondering if there was a light at the end of the tunnel of fear that they were experiencing, the uncertainty was overwhelming, not sure what to think about what’s going to happen next. The room was shut, and probably the lives of those disciples were in a state of being shut down from fear. There was probably a war of emotions going on within them. 

Into this room, this state of anxiety, Jesus appears and has the greeting “Peace to you”. The word “peace” in this context is a common word, but in this context, it meant the world to the disciples. They needed what Jesus was giving. 

They had to be overwhelmed in seeing Jesus, but Jesus’ physical presence was also comforting. Our passage this morning says that they rejoiced and they were strengthened by having seen the Lord. 

Jesus gives a charge to those disciples, an imperative command. Just as the Father had sent Jesus to the world, Jesus was now sending the disciples out from behind shut doors into a crazy world desperate for hope. 

Then, something happens, Jesus breathed on them.  Now, these days, we don’t want anyone breathing on us, do we?!  But, Jesus has been “vaccinated” with resurrection hope and power…with relational flow in the relationship of the Godhead, the Trinity, which also includes us through the universal presence of Christ.  This word “breathe” in this passage is the same word used in Genesis 2:7 where God breathes life into humanity, giving us life. Jesus is in effect saying that he is the Son of God, God in the flesh, giving life to the disciples. Jesus was not only bringing peace to the disciples, but breathing pure life into them. The verse goes on to say that Jesus gives another imperative, to receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus was breathing the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, God’s presence on to the disciples. The Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, the unifying power of God would bring the disciples together, giving them confidence and power to overcome the world.  

The word for “spirit” in Hebrew is the same word for breath and wind. Do you remember the strong winds that rocked our city a few years ago? Well, God’s Wind is stronger and blows everywhere, filling every space. It has been with us before time, before history, it was and is and will be…it exploded out from the Big Bang and is every expanding, finding residence in humanity and ultimately fully in Jesus, who then breathes it out either literally or metaphorically to the disciples and to the world. 

The disciples needed to breathe in the breath of God. The breath of God that brings life and the power to forgive sins. Verse 23 in this passage can seem troublesome at first, does it mean that we can forgive others’ sins? No, it is an affirmation that if we receive the Holy Spirit and abide in Christ as Christ abides in us as stated in John 15:4, then the work of the Holy Spirit which brings the forgiveness bought by Jesus Christ’s actions on
the cross, is exhibited through us. It is the power of God at work within us as we recognize God through Jesus Christ. 

In verse 24 of this passage, we see that one of the 12 disciples, Thomas, wasn’t around to see Jesus the first time he appeared in that room. 8 days later though, they are hanging out and Jesus appears. It’s interesting to note that these same disciples who had just been blessed by Jesus showing up and breathing on them are scared and locked up in that room again! Yet, Jesus breaks through the walls again…gives them a peace blessing and then addresses Thomas. Thomas wants more tangible evidence, so Jesus gives it to them. Jesus doesn’t want to shame Thomas, this passage isn’t here to give reference to Thomas’ unbelief, but it’s here to give hope to those who haven’t seen. The writer of this passage is giving a direct address to those reading in verse 31 that these things have been written for you…for us. 

Friends, we may be living in fear, in anxiety. We may have just witnessed Jesus’ very resurrection in our lives…we may even have lived our lives in expectation of God’s faithfulness to us. Yet, here’s Jesus…appearing before us, walking through any barriers that we may be hiding behind. Calling us out of the four walls we’ve enclosed ourselves in…giving us himself, breathing new life into us, and calling us towards the next thing… a full life with him! Thomas and the rest of the disciples were living in fear, in disappointment. They were tired. Yet Jesus came to them, and comes to us…he invites us to know his scars, to touch the pain that has been inflicted upon him…to believe that he is God and is here with us now. Friends, with this belief, with this faith, we can know that God’s Spirit will flow through even the thickest of walls that our built.  Take a deep breathe, let the oxygen of God’s flow fill you and renew you!


John 20:1-18

The Resurrection of Jesus

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Friends, here we are…Easter morning.  My morning started early!  It was dark…pitch dark.  Of course, it didn’t really start until I was able to get some coffee and a nice hot shower!  As a kid, I remember Easter morning always starting in the dark.  I couldn’t wait for it, it was kind of like Christmas “lite”, but with bunnies and candy…so, I was up, in the dark…looking for my Easter basket…and, yes, I loved the chocolate bunnies!!

Since then, life has happened.  I’m 55.  I’ve had some ups and downs.  And, I’m sure we all have. We’ve experienced loss, disappointment, expectations dashed.  When we get in touch with those moments of disorientation, we can have a notion, or an inkling, of what those early disciples were going through.  And, maybe the point of beginning Easter Sunday in the dark.  We have to go to the dark places.  When Jesus is asked earlier in his life what sign that this generation needs, he responded with the sign of Jonah.  We have to be swallowed in the belly of the whale at times, in a dark place, not in control…and then spit up on the shore unexpectedly.

The disciples may have felt like that…out of their control, not sure what happens next.  Their lives had been filled with so much, they met Jesus, they fell in love with him.  Even in this gospel narrative of John, we hear the phrase, the “disciple that Jesus loved”.  Now, scholars say that could be referencing John, or another disciple who’s writing this text, or it could mean all of humanity, or a reference to Judaism and Gentiles…those inside and those outside.  Either way, the disciples that morning, Mary Magdalene being the most prominent, had just seen their best friend, their rabbi, someone who’s words and actions drew them in, someone who they had projected their hopes and dreams on, humiliated and violently killed on a cross by a religious structure in bed with the state.  All because of love that asked us to be better humans, to include everyone in community, in authentic friendship across social barriers.

Jesus’ death was more than physical pain, that moment on the cross, Jesus was lost…resurrection was not on his mind. He cried out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. Many of us today have been disoriented by so much happening in our culture with the war in Ukraine, the pandemic, political partisanship, the collapsing of so many institutions, including the church, and then adding in our own personal issues. We have felt lost, wondering where God is in all of this, if God has forsaken us.  

Yet, if we believe that God and humanity are together in Jesus, then God through the cross, is telling us that God, the Divine, is in the struggle with us…all of the struggle, embracing all of our lives, and the lives of those around the world.    

We find ourselves here we are on Easter morning. What do we say to each other on this morning?  What phrase? Christ has risen! Christ has risen indeed! Jesus’ love for us, Jesus’ promise of a full life filled with purpose and presence could not be kept in a grave. 

Mary Magdalene was a true disciple and friend of Jesus…one of only two disciples that did not desert Jesus, goes and finds the tomb empty! She runs to tell the other disciples, they go to the tomb and find it as she said…and, I love this passage as a runner, John, who is at least credited with writing our gospel lesson this morning, makes it clear that he’s faster than Peter!  

These disciples ran to the tomb in the dark.  And, again, we come to Easter morning in the dark.  Easter comes to us in the dark, it does not come alive in triumphant statements from this pulpit, from the liturgy or music of the moment…those things remind us of when Easter does come when we are disoriented or lost.  When we look at the casket of a loved one who has died.  When we sit with a church member who’s just gone through surgery and doesn’t know what’s going to happen next.  When we walk with a neighbor who’s daughter is going through a destructive relationship.   A friend who’s thinking about ending their lives.  When we hear of someone on a ventilator, fighting for their lives.  Or when we hear the voice of a loved one in the middle of a war zone wondering if they, or someone they know will make it through the day.

In those moments, when we are lost, when we see the empty tomb and wonder where God is…those are the moments when Easter becomes real.  Maybe like Mary, we run to friends, friends we’ve shared life with to look into to our lives or situations in life to get a different perspective.  Often, we find that they are just as disoriented, just as lost. But, they are there for us.  Friends, in this world where church is declining in attendance across the world, I believe it is more important than ever to remember that the church can be a great source of deep friendship and community, a gathering of people committed to leaning into the throes of life together…it’s more than what we do on a Sunday morning, or at any event.  It is a way of sharing life together.

In these moments of being in the dark when the impossible becomes possible, when, like Mary, we hear a voice that we don’t recognize at first call our names.  It may take a bit to hear deeply, but then we hear God calling us from deep inside and outside of us and we are awakened to a new reality, that God is with us as we look into the tombs of our lives in the midst of the darkness to find a deeper illumination, a light, a love that connects us to our suffering and the suffering of the world, and also gives us the hope that resurrection, growth, promise, and, yes, new life, springing up within us.  

Jesus did not go to the cross to appease a vengeful father. Jesus was nailed to a cross because he challenged a system that excluded many, while maintaining a status quo that kept some in places of servitude, while others seemingly prosper. Jesus came and demonstrated radical inclusiveness, radical friendship, and called us into lives filled with freedom, love, purpose, and deep Presence with others and with God. Jesus invited us, and still does, to deeper lives that are good for us and for others. Jesus models this live and calls us from the cross and the empty tomb to truly love everyone, including ourselves…which is often the hardest person to love, ourselves.  Yet, God says that if we want to change the world, start with changing our own.  

Mary, overcome by grief…stays, she is weeping, struggling, in the dark. Yet, she stays at the tomb, letting things unfold…when she finally hears, really hears, this gardener and sees that he is Jesus,  then, the joy of Easter possibility, Easter imagination, Easter reality rises up within her! 

What happens next? Well, the story gets out, the new reality sets in, people begin to see Jesus and to experience new things. Life as we know it is never the same, and it becomes filled with imagination, new possibilities, strength, confidence in the face of incredible odds. Something begins to form in these early believers that moves them to change the world, starting with their own awareness. 

I said at the beginning this morning that growing up I thought of Easter as Christmas “lite”.  As I grew and as life has come at me and as I’ve leaned into it, I have come to see Easter, as the early Jesus followers did, that Easter has so much to teach me…it’s more than candy and easter bunnies, it is leaning into the darkness and finding new birth, new beginnings…it is knowing that death is necessary, but not the final answer in my story, in God’s story, in your story.  We are all in the process of being reborn and becoming the persons that we have always wanted to be…especially in times of loss…God is always doing a new thing with us and in us.  Let us live towards that sense of awareness like Mary did.  

Christ has risen! 

This Jesus is inviting us to look into our lives and the lives of others, to not be afraid to look into the tomb…to find it empty and to see that God is about the business of overcoming death and inviting us to join together as a more loving and radically inclusive community marked by our identity in Jesus to go the distance in the hard, but worthy and beautiful work, together, of loving ourselves, loving others, and loving God.  This Jesus is also inviting us to come to this table this morning, really, every moment of our lives.  To remember that that the table is open to all people, everywhere…Jesus’ baptism is for all of humanity…and this Jesus invites us to remember that we are the body of Christ, and that this Christ is all around us and in us pouring new life into us.


Matthew 21:1-11

When Jesus and his disciples had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, `The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

“When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

This is palm Sunday.  We commemorate this day by waving palms and singing “hosanna”.  According to Scripture, Jesus entered Jerusalem the week of passover to celebrate this occasion with his disciples.  

In the other gospel accounts, we read that Jesus rode in on a warhorse, a white stallion or a colt, some say just a donkey.  The writer of Matthew is mentioning this to give us a picture that Jesus was not on a warhorse, but a donkey and a colt, both…fascinating.  But, Matthew is always trying to say something.  Essentially, Jesus is not coming to establish they type of earthly kingdom that folks in Jerusalem thought they wanted.  Common folks such as merchants, clergy at the time, or others would ride donkeys.  The symbolism is that Jesus is like one of us and comes to bring peace, not war.  It was also prophesied that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem on a donkey in the old testament.

The people of Jerusalem were gathering from all over the countryside to come to Jerusalem to celebrate passover.  They had heard about Jesus and the miracles he had performed, some were curious, most were hopeful, they were caught up in the festive atmosphere.  They welcomed Jesus with shouts of hosanna, which literally means “God save us”.  The people of Israel were under Roman occupation, they wanted to be liberated and free to live as they thought they should.  They were hoping for this Jesus to deliver them.  They probably were enslaved by even deeper things within their own lives, their way of thinking that prevented them from being the people they wanted to be…and, as is often the case in history, placed their trust and hope in an idea of a person or were transferring their hopes and dreams on to this person, rather than dealing with their own issues.  

So, they waved palms, symbols of expressions of joy, even the coins at that time would have had inscriptions of palms and the words the “redemption of Israel”.  Again, different ideas of what that meant.  They welcomed Jesus and Jesus entered into the moment with them.  

Jesus knew that things were probably not going to go so well in a few short days.  Yet, just like when we come to a wedding, we know life isn’t going to be easy for the couple getting married, yet, we celebrate and we know that something deeper, somehow, some way, is going to happen.  

There were some though who didn’t enter into the festivities.  The religious rulers, those involved in the maintaining of the institutional temple worship had been trying to discredit Jesus, trying to gain the upper hand in discussions with him, attempting to validate their roles, the status quo if you will, by winning an argument, or by other means.  It’s easy to get frustrated with them, yet, we also know what it’s like to have anxiety over change, even if that change is going to be good.  The religious leaders may have known that their system wasn’t perfect, wasn’t sustainable, wasn’t good for everyone, yet it was the system they knew and they didn’t want to have that boat rocked.

They saw the crowds changing for Jesus, they saw the hope for something more in people’s faces and in their actions, yet they couldn’t enter in to the joy.  So, they began to conspire in even more sinister ways.

Jesus saw the injustices, Jesus also heard the deeper cries of the crowd for salvation, for hope, for something more.   Throughout the week between Palm Sunday and that dark Friday where Jesus was crucified, he spoke openly and honestly about deliverance, about the need for a God who was on their side.  Really on their side, not on their side for an earthly or temporal “win” but for the deeper things of life, the hard things and good things that produce a deeper sense of worth, of value, of forever permanence.

At the end of that week, the crowds turned on Jesus as the religious leaders stirred them into action.  Fear and anxiety overtook hope and the deeper need for love, change, and growth.  They, we, wanted to go with what we knew, rather than have faith and hope in something even better.  So, we killed Jesus, we experienced brokenness in our relationship with God, and with others.  

I know it’s easy to judge the folks in Jesus’ time.  To ask why couldn’t they see.  Yet, it’s a drama that’s played out in our lives everyday.  We put hopes in something or someone, and when life happens in ways that we don’t anticipate, we get disappointed, hurt, fearful, anxious, and may experience brokenness and despair. 

In our lives together at Fleming Road UCC and in this neighborhood and in our own families and some of our deep friendships, we have experienced weariness, tiredness, anxiety, and disappointment.  

As a pastor, I know that I will get tired, weary, disappointed, maybe even a bit anxious.  You will as well, and with each other.  You know that, you’ve experienced that over the years.

Yet, that’s not the end of our story, nor is it the end of the story with Jesus.  He was crucified.  But, there was something deeper going on in Jesus’ coming to us, his life, and even his death.  Jesus rose out of the grave three days later.  Jesus’ love for us was stronger than all of the disappointment, all of the weariness.  His love was deeper than our desire for an earthly king.  He overcame death and showed us that God’s belief in us, God’s expansiveness, God’s love for those on the margins, God’s desire for change, growth, and for a more just system…God’s pursuit of everyone and model of radical inclusive community, is stronger than anything in this world.  

This same God does not want us to be ashamed of our lives, ashamed of how we have reacted to our disappointments in life, but to realize the gift of growth, change, and relational presence God has given us.  To own our space and to celebrate with God what God has done for us and who believes in us.

That gives me, and all of us, opportunities for strength as our minds and hearts are inspired and renewed, by a God and God’s presence in our lives. 

The disciples didn’t get it as it said in this mornings passage, but they did get it after Jesus rose from the dead.  They betrayed Jesus, and some even felt betrayed.  Fascinating.  But, they continued to grow.  This gave them hope and a sense of purpose that they could face anything, that their momentary disappointment would give away to growth and a promise of even more beautiful things to come.

This same God calls us into deep community with him and with others.  We will move through the throes of life together, and we will see a future filled with promise, even as we live in the moment, present with each other!  We have a God who does save, who does give us a deeper hope and imagination than we could even imagine.  Makes me want to wave some palm branches and not just say God save us, but thank you God for saving us!


John 11:32-44

32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep.36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

What a week. It has been one filled with conversations, gatherings, and some surprises.  On Monday, I was surprised by visitors to the campus of our church.  Folks from a predominantly Black church that are looking for a new place to have worship space.  While they were here, the organ was being tuned.  As I was showing them the sanctuary, one of the persons, their worship leader, started to sing in perfect pitch with the person tuning the organ…it was spontaneous, organic, and powerful.  In that moment, some life sprung back within me.  

On Monday, I was feeling tired.  Woke up with a stopped up head, and maybe even a stopped up heart.  I needed some life in these dry bones of mine.  

Our gospel lesson this morning talks about how Jesus is moved, deeply and seeing life brought back into dry bones.   He is on his way to visit Mary and Martha and their family.  He’s close to these folks.  On the way, Mary comes to him.  Mary is the one who paid close attention to Jesus’ words, her sister was the one who chastised her for not doing work.  Yet, she knew there was something about Jesus that moved her towards deep friendship, deep relationship with Jesus.  

So, Mary comes out to meet Jesus and tells him that her brother Lazarus has died.  At first she tells him that if he had come earlier, he could have healed Lazarus, she knew that Jesus had power.  Yet, she had accepted the reality of death, she had closed off possibilities. 

Jesus sees her weeping and the other folks weeping.  He’s deeply moved.  The Greek phrases in this passage don’t quite give an accurate picture of what Jesus was feeling.  He was moved, but he was also frustrated, even angry according to many commentators.  But, what was he angry about?  

I believe he was angry at a world where death reigned, where there was no hope, where folks were not willing to believe in the deeper possibilities, that folks simply didn’t get it but went about their lives without imaginative hope.  They didn’t think life could come back to dust…to dry bones.  

Yes, Jesus is also aching for his friend Lazarus and for Mary and her family.  Jesus even weeps himself.  He is affected by this loss personally, they shared life together, he was moved by the love that was present with these friends.  The language used in this passage denotes that Jesus was so moved physically, that it affected him deeply.   Instead of holding it in, Jesus lets it out.  He weeps, he feels, he empathizes, but then he moves into action.

People around him remark on his emotion and how he loved Lazarus, but they don’t see the depth of his love and desire for folks to see that where this is no hope, where folks have accepted an outcome, that God may have different ideas, different possibilities.

So, he tells those standing around to take away the stone.  Mary protests, saying that this body will stink!  Jesus reminds her that if she believes, then she will experience God’s glory.  Jesus is asking her, did you listen to me?  Did you not see all of the things I have done?  Did you not love me as I have loved you?  My love is a love of possibility.

They rolled away the stone, Jesus looks to his father…this prayer reminds those of us reading that Jesus and the Father, the creator of life, are one…and that he’s one with Lazarus  They are in deep community, deep relationship, they deeply hear each other…and that Jesus has been sent out of that relationship.  

Then Jesus cries out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  Come out of the grave, rise up, come out of the darkness into the light of day, MOVE, show yourself!  Don’t wallow in the grave, but get up!  Bring life back into those dead bones.

Lazarus, the dead guy, comes out of the grave.  He’s bound still by the cloths, he can’t see, one cloth covers his eyes.  He may have stunk a bit as well, but Jesus says there is a new reality, a new possibility, take off his grave clothes and let him go!

Friends, Jesus not only heals, he resurrects.  This man is dead and decaying, yet, with words from Jesus mouth of hope and life, he is brought back to life, and not just any life, but life filled with possibility and imagination.  

We may be hearing this story and thinking, well, I’ve been to funerals and I haven’t seen anything like this before.   That’s probably true, but the point of this story is that where we see and experience death, God sees possibility and with God, all things are possible.  We may be dead on the inside, but Jesus is calling us to life and wants those around us to loosen the grave clothes and to have release!

So often, we feel like we want to bind others and oursleves, we want to limit possibilities or we fail to see that the impossible can happen.  We are quick to say this can’t happen in my life, in others lives, or in our lives together.  Or, we, like Mary, limit ourselves by not going far enough in what could happen.  We do not see the possibility of new life.  Yet, God is moving, and God is deeply moved with our pain and wants us to believe that with God, anything is possible.

Friends, this is true in our lives and in our church.  We may think we’re almost dead, that we need to something before we die, yet God is saying that there are deeper possibilities at work.  God is saying to us death is not the final answer.  God is calling us out of the grave, to be loosened of whatever binds us, to believe that we can have a new story written that gives life to us and to those around us.  

This is a story of resurrection and as the body of Christ, as the church, we bear witness to this new life, this new story, by remembering what Jesus has done for us, and to believe and be moved, even as we move into the final days of Lent and into Easter, may life spring up in us, even if we feel like we are dried up, let us remember that we are resurrection people!